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Building on Momentum: 2 Ways to Make Progress at the Bonn Climate Talks

Delegates at the April UNFCCC intersessional in Bonn, Germany made some encouraging progress. As negotiators gather again this week, it’s important that they build on this progress and take action on two key topics: raising ambition, and establishing core elements of the 2015 international climate action agreement.

Indeed, there’s an even greater sense of urgency since delegates met for the April intersessional. The world crossed a perilous and alarming threshold, with atmospheric carbon dioxide levels exceeding 400 ppm, a level that has not been experienced in at least 800,000 years and possibly not for millions of years. Plus, this may be the last intersessional before COP 19 in Warsaw in November. Negotiators must move forward on raising ambition and establishing the 2015 Agreement if COP 19 is to have a successful outcome.

Raising Ambition Now

The need for countries to make more ambitious emissions-reduction commitments remains self-evident—even more so, now that the world has exceeded 400 ppm of atmospheric carbon dioxide. In Bonn, negotiators are set to focus on the transformation of the energy system. They could take some inspiration from the June 1st launch of a Renewable Energy Club. According to Germany’s Federal Environment Minister, Peter Altmaier, "the Renewables Club is a political initiative of pioneering countries that are united by an important goal: a worldwide transformation of the energy system." The founding members are China, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Morocco, South Africa, Tonga, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and the Director-General of International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA, Adnan Amin. The 10 Club members currently account for more than 40 percent of global investments in renewable energy, and could serve as an inspiration for how countries can ramp up their level of ambition.

In addition to new clubs, it is also important that countries use existing initiatives, institutions, or multilateral regimes outside the UNFCCC to address the problem. Examples of this type of action include making decisions in the Montreal Protocol to reduce HFCs and getting the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to address emissions from the aviation sector. Moving forward with these kinds of strategies would build confidence in international cooperation and effectively use institutions that have been created to address these gases and sectors.

In addition to international cooperation, stronger national actions can inspire greater ambition globally. Nowhere is this truer than in the United States, where President Obama has the executive authority to reduce emissions quickly. WRI’s four-point plan outlines a way for the administration to meet its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. An announcement about a national climate plan would certainly inspire greater ambition elsewhere.

Focusing on a 2015 International Climate Action Agreement

The other key issue, of course, is for countries to get a better understanding of what the 2015 international climate action agreement needs to include and achieve. Clearly, it has to increase ambition. Some countries think this can be achieved by setting international targets that countries must strive to meet and be accountable against. Others think each country should set its own targets or make its own “offer” on what emissions reductions it can achieve. Some negotiators are focused on ensuring there is historical responsibility for past emissions, while others only wish to look forward. Spending time in Bonn on the space between these approaches--the so-called middle-ground between a top-down and a bottom-up approach--would be time well-spent. Countries should identify what has to happen in Warsaw to create more clarity on what this part of the agreement will entail. Only then can countries can begin assessing with national stakeholders what kind of post-2020 offers they will make to the international community. The more time countries have to engage nationally and build support for greater ambition, the higher the chance we’ll see a “race to the top” and implementation of those offers later.

In addition, negotiators must remember that the 2015 Agreement it is not only about mitigation, but adaptation. Building resilience to adapt to climate change--particularly amongst the poorest and most vulnerable nations in the world--is absolutely crucial. By the end of the two weeks in Bonn, we’ll hopefully see more focus on what the 2015 agreement should do in this space.

What happens in Bonn doesn’t stay in Bonn. Progress--or lack thereof--at this intersessional will set the stage for COP 19 and establishing a 2015 international agreement. This Bonn session should be a continuation of the constructive spirit of the last, moving countries closer to significant, global action to reduce climate change’s perilous impacts.

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